In 1986 AC/DC asked, “Who made who?”, anticipating the day when our machines would overrun us. Today we call that the Internet of Things (IoT), a world filled with hundreds of billions of sensors, all capturing and communicating data at an increasingly frenetic pace. Worried much?
You shouldn’t be. In fact, according to a heavyweight panel of IoT experts assembled by Adobe in San Francisco last week for its inaugural IoT Think Tank, the machines are far from overrunning us. Instead, IoT is at the heart of the next wave of customer experience.
Figuring out the future
This meeting of the minds was billed as a “gather[ing of] luminaries working at the cutting edge of technology, communication and creativity in a variety of disciplines.”
Nothing is settled yet in IoT. We’re still inventing that future, driven by the thoughtful creativity of the very people with whom I got to spend a day eating and talking:
- David Cooperstein, Founder, Figurr (and longtime Forrester analyst)
- Alexandra Morehouse, Chief Marketing Officer, Banner Health
- Ben Edwards, Founder, VP of Community and Product Evangelism, SmartThings
- Brian Katz, Director, Mobile Strategy in the office of the CTO, VMware
- Brian Markwalter, SVP of Research and Standards, Consumer Electronic Association
- Charlene Li, Principal Analyst, Altimeter
- Colin Raney, Chief Marketing Officer, Formlabs
- Dana Blouin, Chief Data Scientist, Drvr
- Jeff Lyman, Chief Marketing Officer, Vivint
- Kyle Ellicott, Founder and Chief Labs Officer, Wearable World Labs
- Matt Asay, Vice President of Mobile, Adobe
- Susan Miller, Chief Marketing Officer, AnyPresence
As we debated IoT and its impact on privacy, customer experience, and more, something that Formlabs CMO Colin Raney said settled into my brain and wouldn’t leave:
The far future is filled with sensors communicating with each other to make our lives richer and easier. But the near future? That’s a mess of competing standards (making it hard for those IoT sensors to speak to each other), poorly conceived devices, and missed opportunities. Which sounds hopeless, but isn’t.
Early into the discussion we had to first lay the foundation for what IoT actually means. While the group batted around ideas about connectivity and networks, ultimately it was Wearable World’s Kyle Ellicott that nailed the essence of IoT: communication. We can have billions upon billions of IoT sensors, but until they start talking to each other, using the same language of standards, their ability to shape our experience is crippled.
This recognition led to the heart of our discussion: who is best positioned to tame IoT’s unruly chattiness and channel it for the good of consumers, platform providers like Apple or individual brands like Procter & Gamble’s Tide? The answer, not surprisingly, is “both.”
While an Apple or Amazon is best positioned to glean insights across a range of products, ultimately consumers gravitate toward brand experiences. As such, consumer experience with brands will be mediated by platforms, but we won’t see IoT platforms obliterate the value of a brand. Instead, they’ll accentuate it. This means that for any brand hoping to capitalize on IoT, they’re going to need to figure out not only how to build their brand experience using sensor data (e.g., Tide detergent notifying a consumer when a refill is needed), but also how to extend that experience by communicating with platforms (e.g., Tide notifying Amazon that a refill is needed so that I don’t have to take that step) and other brands (e.g., Tide working with Bosch to ensure the temperature is correctly set to get my clothes clean).
Know thy customer
In this age of IoT data that we’re just now entering in earnest, brands will need to quickly get savvy about data, and not merely how to collect and store it. That’s the easy part. But if the sorry state of online advertising is any indication, “lots of data” doesn’t translate into “lots of insight.” Instead it often translates into “lots of poorly targeted ads.” We can do better.
Indeed, as I learned from the Adobe IoT Think Tank, we must. McKinsey projects that IoT will have an $11 trillion impact on the global economy by 2025. The difference between winners and losers in this business-critical IoT future, messy as it may be for now, will be those that learn to channel IoT data to build exceptional customer experiences.